Bashar al Asad had ruled Syria thoroughly dependent on the old guard loyal to his father, Hafez al Asad. Bashar always desired his own power base, and wanted to rule free of the restraints of the older generation, and his father. Openly attacking corruption, Bashar al Asad was able to remove some of the older generation from public life, and replace them with his own men.
Bashar al Asad expected to earn the gratitude, and loyalty of the greater population. This could have created a wider basis of legitimacy, and popular support for Bashar al Asad, which would have been independent of the regime structure. This equation would both insulate him from possible opposition from within the regime, and safeguard him from the public.
The Damascus Spring also helped Bashar al Asad head off opposition from another quarter: his own family. Hafez al Asad’s rule benefited from the unequivocal support of his family and the Alawi community; however, Bashar did not enjoy the same anchor of familial endorsement. In order for Bashar to consolidate his power, he needed to secure the support of his immediate family, the Alawis and finally, the military and security forces.
Rifat, Hafez al Asad’s brother, and one time coup leader, had frequently, and publicly called for trade liberalization, and economic and democratic reforms. Thus, the Damascus Spring could be seen as Bashar’s attempt to challenge one of his strongest rivals. By claiming the popular project of liberalization as his own Bashar al Asad would be able to lay claim to Syrian liberalization.
Furthermore, by improving his personal legitimacy, and championing a movement with great potential for the nation’s socioeconomic health, he could also improve his position as sole authority within the regime. This was of particular importance to Bashar. Whereas Hafez had enjoyed ultimate power, under Bashar, power rested in an uneasy collective leadership of Bashar, the old guard, and other powerful individuals.
Most importantly, Bashar was not constrained the way his father, Hafez, had been in respect to the relationship between domestic and foreign affairs. Under Hafez, domestic, and especially economic, reform had been suspended in the interest of foreign affairs, specifically in relation to the negotiations with Israel.
Bashar’s rule was not created in the context of the Arab-Israel wars. The break in conflagration between the two countries in the 90s allowed Bashar to hone in on domestic issues.
Finally, he was motivated to prove himself as a leader in his own right rather than as a carbon copy of his father. He felt the need to legitimize himself through his own achievements while addressing the expectations of the population, found in the book, The New Asad: The Dynamics of Continuity and Change in Syria.